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Winnie Barron will receive a prestigious international award in New York City Nov. 2 based on her work with children in Kenya.

Mark Ylen, Mid-Valley Sunday

If you sometimes despair about the power of one person to make a difference in the world, allow us to suggest that you consider Winnie Barron.

The Brownsville woman, a physician's assistant at Samaritan Urgent Care in Lebanon, also is the founder of the Makindu Children's Center in Kenya. For 19 years now, the center has worked with thousands of underprivileged African children.

The Children’s Center is a facility that provides high-protein meals, education, income-generating projects, and treatment for HIV and AIDS. It also works to place children in guardian homes whenever possible so that they can have a safe and healthy environment.

Barron and the Makindu Children's Center recently were in the national spotlight; her organization was named the winner of the 2017 World of Children Humanitarian Award. (World of Children is an international philanthropic organization founded by business leaders Harry Leibowitz and his wife, Kay Isaacson-Leibowitz.)

Barron and the other winners were whisked off to New York City earlier this month for a whirlwind of events, including a gala ceremony. But Barron was more focused on the contacts that she was able to make during her time there — contacts that she hopes will make Makindu even more effective in the future.

Barron's first venture to Africa was in 1994, when she traveled to Rwanda with Northwest Medical Teams. That's where she saw the impact of extreme poverty on children.

Three years later, she returned to Africa with the intention of going to returning to Rwanda in the wake of the genocide there. But the border was closed. While she waited in Nairobi for the border to reopen, she decided to volunteer at a rural hospital in Makindu. She was overwhelmed by the plight of the children she saw there. 

After years of work in Africa, she returned to the United States in 1997, and, as she told Democrat-Herald reporter Alex Paul, "sat on my living-room floor and told friends my story. They raised $10,000 and I went back to Makindu and in August 1998, and we formed the center."

Despite a 10-year battle with muscular dystrophy, Barron still returns to Kenya two or three times a year. She pays her own travel expenses and sometimes bunks at the local Sikh temple. Her hope is that the center — which runs on a shoestring budget of $150,000 per year with a staff of 11 — will always remain open, and that it will be operated completely by area residents.

Now, granted, not all of us will be able to duplicate Barron's situation. For example, we don't all have understanding employers like Samaritan. We don't all have the resources to frequently travel abroad.

But there are opportunities all around us — some quite close to home — to make a big difference in someone's life. What Winnie Barron teaches us is that the first step is being open to those opportunities when they emerge.

And congratulations to Barron and the Makindu Children's Center. The World of Children award is well-deserved. (mm)

Holiday travel

If you're planning to travel during next week's Thanksgiving weekend, here's a secret: You won't be alone.

The AAA reported this week that it expects 50.9 million Americans to travel more than 50 miles away from home during the holiday. That includes an estimated 647,000 Oregon residents, and most of us (556,600 or so) will be driving. It's expected to be the busiest Thanksgiving for travel since 2005; perhaps not coincidentally, the average price of a gallon of gasoline will be 40 cents higher than last year, the most expensive gas price since 2014.

The busiest travel day next week is expected to be Wednesday; no surprise there. The busiest travel times are anticipated to be between 3 and 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. 

If you're among the hundreds of thousands on state roads next week, remember that late November can offer some weather surprises. So drive safe and be prepared for the unexpected. (mm)

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